I’ve been learning how to create models using Cinema 4D, which is a very well-designed, user-friendly 3D package from Maxon. So now that I’m able to make simple models, I’ve been looking around online for technical drawings, schematics, or blueprints to work from. What I’m finding is that there are a TON of blueprints of automobiles out there, and quite a few for historic airplanes, ships, and weapons. Finding blueprints and elevations of buildings, however, has not been quite so easy.
I did find one huge online repository, maintained by the Library of Congress, called HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey), which documents over 37,000 structures. HABS was begun as a “make work” project during the Great Depression, in 1933. It put engineers and architects to work measuring, documenting, and drawing historic building in all 50 states. In recent years, millions of images and documents have been digitized, and all are now available to the public online. It’s an amazing resource, but it’s not very easy to browse through. You can browse by Subject (barbershops, Baptist Churches, beehives) or Place (by town within county within state). There’s a search facility, too. But you’ve got to open each individual record before you find out whether or not there are drawings included. Usually, there’s just black and white photographs. A better place to get started searching this mountain of images is the List of Images on Popular Topics, sort of a greatest hits collection from the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Reading Room.
The List of Images on Popular Topics has a section titled “Architecture,” with the following subtopics:
- Bungalows in the Historic American Buildings Survey: A Select List
- Cape Cod Houses Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey: A Select List
- Courthouses Recorded by Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)
- Covered Bridges Recorded by Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)
- Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey
- Saltbox Houses in the Historic American Buildings Survey
- Timber-frame Houses in the Historic American Buildings Survey: A Select List
You can also find many blueprints on Google. Try searching Google Images for blueprints. Another good keyword to use is “elevation”.Speaking of Google, another huge source is yet another government archive in digital form, this time from the U.S. Patent Office. Google Patents has a searchable (but not browsable) collection of US Patent applications dating from the late 18th Century up until the present day. Try searching for “Thomas A. Edison” and see the original patent application for the incandescent lamp (a.k.a., the light bulb). There are all kinds of wonderful and strange inventions here, from the mundane to the truly bizarre. For 3D modellers, this can be a source of great reference material for steampunk, retro sci-fi, and Victorian machinery. Most of these inventions probably never saw the light of day. But you can recreate them in 3D and give them new life in a rendering. So what if that airship design would never have worked? Bring it into Vue and make it soar!